Vertical and horizontal transmission in language evolution

William Shi Yuan Wang, James W. Minett

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


It has been observed that borrowing within a group of genetically related languages often causes the lexical similarities among them to be skewed. Consequently, it has been proposed that borrowing can sometimes be inferred from such skewing. However, heterogeneity in the rate of lexical replacement, as well as borrowing from other languages, can also give rise to skewed lexical similarities. It is important, therefore, to determine to what degree skewing is a statistically significant indicator of borrowing. Here, we describe a statistical hypothesis test for detecting language contact based on skewing of linguistic characters of arbitrary type. Significant probabilities of correct detection of contact are maintained for various contact scenarios, with low false alarm probability. Our experiments show that the test is fairly robust to substantial heterogeneity in the retention rate, both across characters and across lineages, suggesting that the method can provide an objective criterion against which claims of significant skewing due to contact can be tested, pointing the way for more detailed analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-146
Number of pages26
JournalTransactions of the Philological Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Vertical and horizontal transmission in language evolution'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this